Rose, c’est la vie: Pink at the Museum at FIT

Although my aunt coincidentally just spoke of ‘edible colour’ in terms of bento lunches and not the Fashion Institute of Technology, that would be taking The Museum at FIT’s current special exhibit, a survey of pink fashion spanning three centuries, to its (il)logical conclusion.

I used to rip handfuls of petals off my grandmother’s roses, because I didn’t know what else to do with the colour and, in batik class, drenched a handkerchief in what looked like pink blood well beyond the purpose of saturation. More recently, Elle Beauty’s lipstick smash videos and their muted clacks, scrapes and smears have satisfied… something, with form and purpose seemingly destroyed to become pure, shapeless colour. And so, Maison Schiaparelli’s fall 2015-16 silk chiffon gown, a pillar of ‘Shocking Pink’, inspires a familiar urge: visual obsession manifested as base, physical desire – ‘I want to eat it,’ I texted my aunt. ‘I want to rip it.’

Schiaparelli Paris Silk chiffon gown, fall 2015-16.

This Schiaparelli figures amongst approximately 80 ensembles recounting ‘Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color’, from dresses that look like Ladurée pastries to suits that look like rag doll fetish-wear. ‘Pink’ spotlights one of the most auratic of features, literally – the clothing glows under the effects of lighting and black background – and figuratively. With its history of elevation, commodification, codification and reclamation, the colour evokes seemingly endless ideas: youth, gender, queerness, class, modernity, imagination and fashionability.

The anteroom presents a brief overview of pink that one might expect: a chronological display of a stereotypically feminine colour beginning with an 1857 taffeta dress in watermelon and ending with the business suit of the 1980s and ’90s. If the main gallery doesn’t subvert this initial presentation, it certainly nuances and elasticises it, grouping ensembles thematically to tell a different story: a story of an elegant, ungendered colour that emerged from nameless indifference in the 18th century to paint the French royal court – despite pink dyes being used in China, Japan and India for much longer – before its 19th century feminisation; a colour to be reclaimed in excessive/transgressive displays of fantastic (sarcastic?) femininity.

Paquin Silk chiffon evening cape, 1897.

‘Pink’ cites colour historian Michel Pastoureau to clarify that, despite overwhelming associations, ‘there is no transnational truth to colour perception.’ It’s strange that reflections of light with no inherent truth or physical body can drive trends, enchant or repulse generations, and make me feel so viscerally. The clothing’s object-ness, reinforced by how invitingly tactile some of the ensembles are – the silk ruffles of Paquin’s 1897 chiffon evening cape, or the bubblegum pleather ones of Comme des Garçons’ 2016 ‘18th-Century Punk’ – combines with the intensity of the colour to suggest you can hold the pink, know and consume and be consumed by it.

Comme des Garçon Pleather, faux fur, rubber, and synthetic ensemble, fall 2016.

Pink is on point as colour and exhibition subject, all-inclusively staining book jackets, home décor, and men’s wellness campaigns as of late. Its prevalence, and the increasingly broken gender codes thereof, means today’s pink both continues to attract and loses its bite.

Though I still want to bite it.

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color‘ is on view at The Museum of FIT until January 5, 2019.

All photos taken by the author.

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Musings on ‘Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Following an incredible visit to the archives on Monday, we returned to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York on Tuesday for the exhibitions – we simply could not miss out on the opportunity of seeing more of FIT’s work. One of these was Proust’s Muse- The Countess Greffulhe which is based on a show previously held in Paris entitled La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe. The exhibition focuses on Countess Greffulhe’s style and fashion and aims to highlight her role in inspiring the character of Oriane in Marcel Proust’s In Search of a Lost Time.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT

Located in the basement of FIT, the exhibition was separated into two rooms. One of these was a long entry hallway. Here, the show was introduced through photographs of the Countess and some of her contemporaries as well as by means of a video. This was extremely useful in setting the tone of the exhibition. Narrated by Valerie Steele, FIT’s Director and chief curator, it highlights the thinking behind the exhibition and outlines some of the key dresses on display. The exhibition itself was located in a large hall, which allowed for the clothes to be spread out generously. The black wall colour, high ceilings and dim lighting helped to highlight each garment, although some of the colours of the fabrics were a little lost as an effect. The exhibition showcases a selection of Countess Greffulhe’s clothes and accessories over the course of her lifetime, enabling the viewer to gain an overview of her personal style. House of Worth, Fortuny and Babani are just three examples of her choice of designers. Particularly insightful into the Countess as a style icon is the “Byzantine” House of Worth dress from 1904, which she chose to wore for her daughter’s wedding. The viewer is told that in it, she outshone the bridal dress of her daughter, having arrived at the wedding venue with enough time to spare to showcase her dress to any guests and bystanders.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Countess Greffulhe, as an exhibition and as a person, seemed a perfect fit for our course as it reflects the breadth of the role that fashion can take. It sums up the personal element of style, reflecting questions of identity and representations as well as using dress as a mediator to express these. This is applicable to both, the Countess’ clothes as well as her staging of dress in photographs. As Steele sums up, ‘the Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion. And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant.’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe will be on display at FIT New York until January 7, 2017.

 

Sources:

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe Exhibition Handout

http://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/prousts-muse.php

https://flic.kr/s/aHskJYFyX2 

Red Capes and Glitter Jelly Heels: An Interview with Curators Colleen Hill and Ariele Elia

1.Museum at FIT website with image from the Comme des Garçons, Spring 2015 runway show

Museum at FIT website with image from the Comme des Garçons, Spring 2015 runway show

Unlicensed copy of Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress, rayon crepe, black and gold seed beads, c. 1925, USA, 76.125.1

Unlicensed copy of Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress, rayon crepe, black and gold seed beads, c. 1925, USA, 76.125.1

Detail of "Little Horses" dress

Detail of “Little Horses” dress

I first met Colleen Hill, associate curator at The Museum at FIT during a visit to the museum archive to research garments by Emmanuelle Khanh in 2008. We bonded over our love of 1960s fashion and French culture. I met Ariele Elia, assistant curator, in 2011 at an exhibition opening—she was dressed as an 1890s tennis player and I went in 1860s croquet wear. And on 13th January the three of us caught up over coffee on 7th Avenue.

What were your reasons for choosing this career path?

CH: I’ve loved fashion, museums, and writing for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine a job better suited to my interests.

AE: From a young age I was exposed to the inner workings of the fashion industry. My mother started off as a fashion designer, but ended up owning a series of women’s apparel boutiques. While working in her stores I enjoyed learning about the business side of fashion, but was more fascinated with the creative process of the designers. In college I majored in Art History, and almost went on to pursue an M.A. in that field, until I realised Fashion History existed. However, this was not a viable career option in California. So I moved to New York to continue my studies and could not be happier about that decision.

Your current project?

CH: I’m opening an exhibition in February 2016 called Fairy Tale Fashion. It will use both historical and contemporary garments to illustrate more than twelve fairy tales, including well-known stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” In addition to offering a brief history of the fairy tales and their significance, the show will highlight their direct references to fashion.

AE: Currently I am co-curating an exhibition titled Global Fashion Capitals, set to open in June 2015. The first half of the exhibition looks at dynamics that allowed Paris, New York, London, and Milan to become established as global powers in fashion. While the second half of the exhibition explores emerging cities that attempt to rise as new fashion capitals, including Istanbul, São Paulo, Seoul, Mumbai, and Shanghai.

Your current object of fascination in the collection?

CH: I’m currently researching a hooded, red cape from the eighteenth century.

AE: I am fascinated with Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress from 1921. While researching for Faking It, I had found a few versions of this dress that I had assumed were unauthorised copies, including the one in our collection. Recently I had discovered that Eva BOEX, a French atelier was authorised to create copies of the dress. The description of her version is very close to the one in our collection, so I am hoping to find a sketch to confirm my findings.

Can you discuss your curatorial vision? What do you enjoy most about curating? What aspect do you find most challenging?

CH: I’ve organised numerous exhibitions in the Fashion History Gallery at The Museum at FIT, which are intended to be straightforward, educational, and, of course, historical. Within those parameters, I tend to select topics that are subtly provocative. For example, I’ve curated exhibitions about the role of women in the fashion industry, gender and fashion, sustainable fashion, and lingerie. I aim to put together shows that are accessible and entertaining, but also intelligent.

I find nearly every aspect of curatorial work to be enjoyable, but identifying a small but crucial bit of research is especially rewarding.

Like most curators, I would imagine, one of the most challenging aspects of my work is meeting short deadlines.

AE: I have curated a few exhibitions in the museum’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery. I love to investigate interdisciplinary topics within fashion such as fashion and technology and fashion law.

The aspect I enjoy most about curating is studying an object. It is incredible what a garment can tell you by just observing it.

One aspect that I am constantly working to improve is editing. There is so much information a curator would like to tell their public; however a curator must synthesise the content into a digestible form. I don’t want to overwhelm someone visiting the museum for the first time, but I also want to maintain an academic standard to a fashion historian. It’s a difficult balance!

Can you name an exhibition that marked you?

CH: My earliest museum memory is going to see Colleen Moore’s fairy castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It’s essentially a massive, meticulously constructed doll’s house. I was completely fascinated by its beauty and intricacy, and also the way it was presented—with only one part of the castle lit at a time, allowing the visitor to focus on its details. I’m obviously still interested in fairy-tale worlds!

AE: Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion (2007) was the first fashion exhibition I had seen. I was in awe over the incredible shapes of the garments designed by Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto. It was here that I realised there were other people that spoke the same language I did.

Can you discuss a personal fashion memory?

CH: I found a copy of Radical Rags by Joel Lobenthal in my local library when I was ten years old. I became completely obsessed with it. The book affected the way I dressed, my interest in music, and my future career choice.

AE: I always have fond memories of my mother getting ready for work. She was a huge fan of Donna Karan in the 90s. Her 7 easy piece collection worked perfectly for my mom and her busy schedule. She always looked so elegant in her black wrap skirt, body suit, and large gold belt. I wish I could emulate her style.

Can you discuss an item of clothing or an accessory that you no longer have but still think about?

CH: I purchased a pair of Dr. Martens when I was about 14. They were brown with a subtle cheetah print. Since the shoes were second-hand, they didn’t even fit well, but I wore them with everything.

AE: When I was about 10 I owned a pair of glitter jelly heels. In the heel was an Eiffel Tower that floated in water and glitter like a snow globe. I wish I would have kept them!

If you could be dressed by any past couturier, who would it be?

CH: André Courrèges.

AE: Charles James. I absolutely love the architectural shapes he created! He made the women he dressed look so elegant. I wish I could have his Butterfly dress remade in lavender.